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Review: Maggie Moore(s) – “An engaging, fun, dark comedy”

The opening screen of Maggie Moore(s) states “Some of this actually happened…” and keeping that in the back of your mind while watching this comedic crime film makes it all the more intriguing, as it seems the unlikeliest of stories.  It’s hard to believe that any of the plot is rooted in truth, but then again everything is possible.

In a small dusty town, police chief Jordan Sanders (Jon Hamm) doesn’t seemingly get a lot of work.  Recovering from the death of his wife, he’s just figuring out how to navigate his grief by taking writing classes and starting to dip his toes into dating, if only very awkwardly.  When a murdered woman named Maggie Moore is discovered Sanders puts things on hold for the investigation, but working alongside his colleague Deputy Reddy (Nick Mohammed), they are having difficulty getting leads.  

When a second victim named Maggie Moore ends up dead just days later, the two officers start to unfold a mystery that involves cheating husbands, hardened criminals, and grossly expired food, amongst other improbable connections.  It also includes the first Maggie Moore’s recently divorced neighbour Rita (Tina Fey) who becomes entangled in the investigation, and also with Sanders himself as they both strive to find some happiness in their lives. 

Maggie Moore(s) isn’t a traditional whodunit.  As in the recent popular TV show Poker Face, the audience knows who dies, and who is responsible.  We follow our protagonists around as they put the pieces together.  While there are comedic elements to the film, you aren’t watching bumbling detectives here, Sanders and Reddy largely know what they’re doing, which is satisfying.  Yet, if you think you know the whole story ahead of time, don’t worry – there are enough twists and turns to keep things interesting. 

Much of the comedy of the film comes from Hamm’s scenes with Fey which are absolutely charming as they share quick-witted banter, the type that comes easily when you work with close friends (the two have enjoyed a friendship for many years).  Yet, it’s in these moments, when Maggie Moore(s) shifts to a rom-com feel that, while highly enjoyable, can make the film struggle a bit tonally.  It’s hard to get a murder mystery and romance to really mesh, and while it’s mostly a successful marriage, there are times when it feels that neither is getting the attention they deserve.  

Maggie Moore(s) marks the second feature for director John Slattery, who is probably best known for starring alongside Jon Hamm in Mad Men, amongst his many acting gigs.  His previous feature, God’s Pocket (which starred Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks) was one of Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s last roles before his passing in 2014.  

Clearly, Slattery likes to work with his friends, as he also reunites with Tina Fey, with whom he starred in an episode of Amazon’s anthology series Modern Love as well as having guest starred on 30 Rock and most recently Girls5Eva, for which Fey is executive producer.  This comfort level seems to translate well on screen and Slattery creates an easy-going, relaxed viewing experience, which then serves to amplify the tension of the film’s final act.  

This cast keeps Maggie Moore(s) feeling grounded, and the addition of Nick Mohammed, just coming off the finale of the beloved Ted Lasso, is certainly welcome.  All three principal players are well cast, and those that enjoyed Hamm as the detective in Confess, Fletch will find a similar feel at play here.  I’m personally happy to see Hamm play as many of these detective roles as he might like, especially as he is so aptly able to balance comedy and drama in this genre.

Maggie Moore(s) is an engaging, fun, dark comedy with a cast full of interesting characters.  And while I’ll keep guessing which parts of this story were taken from reality, at the end of the day this unlikely tale makes for a most likeable film.  

Maggie Moore(s) premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival June 12th and comes to theatres and on demand June 16th.  

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